The North Korea Problem
Sarah R. Warren, Foreign Policy Contributor
Opinion-- Resolution 2371 passed unanimously in the United Nations Security Council. The sanctions, which target North Korea’s primary exports and other sources revenue such as banks, compound sanctions already signed into action by President Trump. Both sets of sanctions come on the heels of two intercontinental ballistic missile tests from the rogue nation last month and are touted as a diplomatic triumph against the backdrop of harsh rhetoric from both nations.
Experts, however, are skeptical, arguing that nuclear capability is an ability on which Kim Jung Un “has staked his legitimacy.” Others cite the failure of previous sanctions, which were also ratified unanimously, as evidence that diplomacy cannot sway North Korea. These failures, according to Gordon Chang, author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World and The Coming Collapse of China, are the result of Chinese double-dealing. Chang says that China, North Korea’s major economic partner, consistently violates the sanctions it voted for in the UN by buying coal from North Korea through third parties. “They do this,” he argues, “because administrations in the past have let them—this is not a story about North Korea or China—this is a story about the failure of American policy makers to protect the American people.”
Whether they are effective in hastening the disarmament of North Korea or not, these sanctions were, at least, intended to pressure Kim Jung Un into backing down from his bombastic threats against the United States. They did not. In a report from its state-run media, North Korea said it would “turn the US mainland into the theater of a nuclear war” if the United States took action. It may be that the only way to communicate with such a brash nation is through force and the United States military is prepared to bring “fire and fury” to North Korea’s doorstep. According to a tweet from the President, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
While diplomatic measures are always the ideal method of resolving foreign conflict, North Korea is uniquely impervious to sanctions and international showboating. Sanctions are not always ineffective, if combined with other measures, but they are predicated on the notion that the country is concerned with the well-being of its people and its status among the nations. This is not the case with North Korea, the rogue regime with one foot in civilization and one foot in the benighted world. A reported 12 million North Koreans live in “extreme poverty” and the average life expectancy is only 70 years old. They have thrown out UN investigators, violated international agreements, and—most recently—returned captured U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier in a coma, a condition from which he soon died. North Korea has made abundantly clear how little it cares for its citizens and its international reputation.
Certainly, the ideal outcome would be a diplomatic one, with North Korea ceasing all incendiary military action. If that ideal cannot be attained, some believe mass devastation is the inevitable result of armed conflict with North Korea. In the coming days, the United States must strike a delicate balance between protecting its interests (including its people) and inciting violence.
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